What does the United Methodist Women (UMW), a dead body, a physics experiment, and the Baptist Church have in common? The answer in this case would be a preachers kid with really poor timing who was bored and looking for something to do.
To set the stage for this event I need to describe the location. In this case the design of the parsonage and the lay of the land around it played a big part in the event. I am referring to it as an “event” because it was right up there with stunts or “events” put on by famous daredevils. This event didn’t make me famous, but possibly infamous to a number of witnesses that day.
The parsonage was in Valley Falls on Elm Street. It was a nice house sitting on the side of a hill. It was a split level house where you would go in the front door and then up the staircase to the main level on the second floor. The living room was on the second floor and had a big picture window which opened toward the front yard and down the side of the hill. The back yard and patio were at the same level as the second floor.
It was about 1982 and I was around 15 years old. I remember my nephew Michael being there along with several other kids from the neighborhood. It was a warm afternoon and I was looking for something to keep me busy. There had been discussion earlier in the year as to whether a person could sled down the hill in front of our house, across Elm Street and down across the vacant lot across the street and through the trees, ending up in the parking lot near the Baptist Church a block away.
It was warm so I didn’t have snow to test out my theory.
We were all outside because there was a group of church ladies with the UMW who were meeting in our living room for some type of function. Our instructions had been to find something to do outside and not make any noise. In my own defense, I technically followed both of those instructions. I couldn’t help it if there ended up being unintended witnesses. As I said in a previous writing, the worst offense was not necessarily “what” you did, but that there were witnesses. I think there is probably a rule that says the older the witness, the worse the reaction. I don’t say this as a disparaging remark toward older folks, but I wonder if younger people have kids who’ve done silly things recently, so the shock value is less for them. In the end it doesn’t really matter what the witness says or does, because it is what mom is feeling and her level of embarrasment and anger which decides your fate.
In the back yard there was a small metal garden shed with various unused items. In looking through them I found just what I needed for a small experiment in physics. Among the yard tools, spare lumber, and other items sat a car tire without a rim on it. As I looked at it, I suddenly realized that we could answer the question from last winter as to whether the hill below our house was steep enough for someone to sled all the way across the street, across the vacant lot, through the tree line and into the parking lot near the Baptist Church.
It was beautiful weather for an “event” such as this.
All we needed was a “launch” platform. You see, anyone could roll a tire down the hill, but I just wasn’t sure there would be enough momentum to make it all the way. This is the point in the story where a different choice would have resulted in this not being a story worth writing down. In my many years as a law enforcement officer and an attorney I know full well that most stories, both bad and good, have that point where a single decision made all the difference.
For me it was when I spotted the aluminum extension ladder laying beside the garden shed. Suddenly I realized how to get enough launch momentum to make the event a success. Michael helped me get the ladder up against the house. I then went part way up the ladder and Michael handed me the 15 inch radial tire. We then made our way onto the roof and carried the tire to the peak of the roof. Being on the side of the hill, two stories in the air, and with no obstructions, it really was a beautiful view. The rest of the kids ran to the front of the house to witness the event. I had to tell them to stay to the side of the yard because I didn’t want anyone to get hit. Not that I was so worried about their safety, but honestly I just didn’t want to have to lug that tire all the way back up on the roof.
As soon as everyone was ready, we began the countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, LAUNCH!
I believe it was at this time that the UMW ladies were being served refreshments in our living room. Since they were sitting in a circle around the room, about two-thirds of them were looking directly at the front living room window. Mom reported later that she was standing in the living room serving refreshments when suddenly she saw a body fly past the window and several kids begin to yell! There was then a stunned group exclamation as several of the ladies tried to comprehend why or how a body just flew past the window on its way to the yard two stories below.
The yelling was because the tire had performed magnificently. It flew off the roof, bounced across the yard, across the street, picking up even more momentum as it rolled across the vacant lot across the street, through the tree line and dropping at the edge of the parking lot near the Baptist Church.
Mom was in her early sixties at the time and I’m not sure she actually hit any of the steps as she sprinted down and out the front door, followed by several ladies of the church group.
Mom yelled out is someone hurt? Of course everyone was thrilled at the success of the experiment and told her no. Mom then yelled that she thought someone had fallen off the roof and was hurt.
At this point I was still on the roof and obviously busted. If I had thought out the launch a little better and done it at the other end of the house, no one would have seen the “body” fly by the window and we’d have been ok. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20 and I was caught red-handed. Throwing myself from the roof was actually now on the list of possible good ideas based upon the level of mothers animation. She would never ever admit it, but in some recess of mothers mind she had to have thought, “Why didn’t we stop at 5 kids?…. Do you suppose anyone would realize if he just sort of disappeared mysteriously?…. Explaining that he just disappeared has got to be easier to explain than my son just launched a tire off the house in front of the UMW ladies group…. Is it too late to tell everyone at church that we don’t even know who this kid is or where he came from?….”
I spent a period of time on devils island in solitary confinement, which in this case was my room with no car driving. In thinking back on it, I was lucky to be child number 6. If I had been child number 1 or 2 their shock would probably have been overwhelming and I would have been sent to the actual devils island.
In the end, I was just doing what I was told; stay outside and don’t make any noise. After that day, Mother may have been a little more specific on her instructions.
Boy, did that tire roll…..it’s too bad all they saw was a dead body…..